Understanding Handstands – The ART Principle

There are many approaches to learning a handstand. Depending on the teacher, or the school of movement, you will likely be given different drills and cues to follow. Ultimately though, all high level hand balancers follow the same core concepts. The ART Principle is a helpful way towards understanding the fundamentals of a handstand.

Alignment

This is the most intuitive principle. Imagine stacking a pile of blocks. The most effective way to get them to balance is by aligning them. The same can be said of your joints in a handstand. By stacking our joints we create the most efficient form for balancing. This creates the cleanest line while expending the least amount of energy.

Check your handstand to see that all the major checkpoints are aligned.

handstand final

Tips for Alignment

  1. Use a camera. It really is your best friend.
  2. Lead with the hips. Most people are so concerned with getting their feet up that they leave their hips behind. The result is an arched back to compensate for balance. When you kick into a handstand, lead with the hips and get them in position first.
  3. Open your shoulders. Also a common compensation for misalignment where the head is too far in front of the shoulders (and hips are a bit behind). It ends up looking like a very high planche. A good cue for opening the shoulders is to think downward facing dog (yoga). Push your torso back towards the direction where your feet kicked up from. This gets your head back in alignment with your shoulders.

 

Rebalancing

When we think of “balance” in human terms, we must also associate the word “effort”. Unlike inanimate objects, human bodies have moving parts and hold more than 50% water. This means we will never be in a state of dead balance. Being in balance means that we are constantly rebalancing. So it’s a good thing we have muscles! A handstand relies primarily on the shoulders and fingers to rebalance: shoulders for bigger adjustments, fingers for smaller adjustments.

Tips for Rebalancing

  1. Tent your fingers. This provides a more solid anchor and lets you press a little harder for adjustments.

tent fingers

  1. Engage your shoulders. Because your fingers can only handle so much! Bigger adjustments require stronger muscles, and your shoulders are what control the bulk of your balance in a handstand. Elevate the scapula and try to feel any rebalancing you make through the shoulders (as opposed to just your fingertips).
  2. Vary your leg positions. Don’t worry too much about getting both legs together at first. Play with a split or straddle leg position to give you additional leverage for rebalancing.

 

Tension

Possibly the most overlooked tenant of the ART Principle. Tension is extremely important because it creates a unity in your body that allows for easier Alignment and Rebalancing. Imagine trying to balance a pair of nunchucks, one half vertically on top of the other. Impossible, right? Because that chain link center is pliable and holds no tension to support the two halves. In handstand terms, that chain is your core, and those two halves are your upper and lower bodies. If you have no tension, there is no connection between your torso and legs, and you end up trying to balance two separate entities instead of one.

Tips for Tension

  • Two words: hollow body. A bit of an elaborate concept. The video above offers a good breakdown.
  • Don’t be too tense! We need to give ourselves some room to make adjustments and rebalance. Over-tensing also expends a lot of energy, and takes focus away from the breath, both of which you’ll need to take your handstand to the next level.

 

I hope you found this article helpful! Please feel free to post any questions or comments below.

Happy moving 🙂

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